For Tourists Who Stray, Some Help From on High
[New York Times,
23 October 2005
By RICHARD MORGAN
It was a classic tourist error: After a bit of sightseeing in Chinatown that produced a swaggering confidence in their directional skills, Julie Thompson and Jan Ford, visitors from rural England, set out boldly for Little Italy. ''It's right around here somewhere,'' Ms. Thompson said in a tinny voice, refusing to consult any maps or ask passers-by.
But the jumble of Chinese characters and narrow winding streets in the area bested her. Finally, Ms. Thompson took out a small device, the size of a Palm Pilot, and waited patiently until a James Bond-style graphic indicated that it was linked up with a satellite feed.
Once connected, the gadget told her where exactly she was in Chinatown. Pressing a button, she tapped into a list of destinations. There it was, right after the Emma Lazarus tablet on the Statue of Liberty: Little Italy, which turned out to be just across the street, on the stretch of Mulberry Street north of Canal Street.
They soon found themselves surrounded by cannoli. ''Wonderful,'' Ms. Ford said, gasping.
The wonders started a few hours earlier as the two stood outside the Wellington Hotel at Seventh Avenue and 55th Street, one of a handful of New York hotels that have begun aiding hapless tourists by providing them with Global Positioning System devices. The device, which helps tourists from getting lost as they travel the city and points them home at day's end, served the British visitors well, guiding them to points of interest.
Having won a trip to New York for having the tidiest thrift shop in England, the two shopkeepers marveled at Seventh Avenue's sheer size. Their hometown, Atherstone, has only one single-lane road, Long Street, which runs for about four city blocks.
''Caw! Fancy that,'' marveled Ms. Thompson, 56, as she approached the famous marquee at Radio City Music Hall. She wasn't pointing to the home of the Rockettes, however, but to the pool next to the Time & Life Building. ''Three fountains,'' she gushed. ''Lovely.''
Then they used the device to direct them to Tiffany's. ''We're quite jewelry mad,'' explained Ms. Ford, a diminutive 52-year-old with a reserved manner.
The device, distributed chiefly by GPS Multi-Media Inc., an entertainment technology company, has landed in recent weeks on the concierge desks of at least four other New York hotels besides the Wellington, including the New York Palace. The gadget speaks 10 languages and is well versed in all things New York, but it is no threat to concierges. ''It's a machine,'' said Melody Williamson, chief concierge at the Palace. ''It can't pull strings.''
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